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Bark beetle continues to ravage Latvian forests

A year ago, there was a forest with fine, green fir trees in Tīnūži parish of Ogre county. Now the ground is covered with brown needles, and when you look up, you can see nothing but dead trunks. The trees, which always pleased the residents of the nearby houses, have been eaten by the eight-toothed spruce bark beetle.

It's a small insect that causes enormous damage to fir trees and it continues to spread in Latvia. The bark beetle especially likes warm and dry summers. The smell of freshly fallen or cut fir trees is also an invitation to a feast. After this week's devastating storm, it is feaed that the prevalence of the bark beetle could increase even more. How to recognize a bark beetle and how to fight it?

Raimonds Migla, forest ranger of the "Rīgas meži" foresty concern, said that a quarter of the fir trees here are 105 years old. Some are as much as 165 years, and pines have even reached 205 years old.

The pines will remain, but all the firs on the 1.68 hectare area will be cut down. Instead of a forest near private houses, there will now be a clearing, because there are no other options.

The beetles do not attack young trees, but destroy the old ones one by one. Many owners of spruce forests, including "Rīgas meži", place bark beetle traps on their territory. There are thousands of such traps in Latvia. They can help limit the spread of this insect. 

The Deputy Head of the Forestry Department of "Rīga meži", Zigmārs Bulavs, said that with the help of traps, it was possible to stop the spread of pests to new trees: "The results show that we have already caught about 50 liters of this insect. If we turn it into numbers, it would be about two million beetles. So these pests have not participated further in infesting new trees."

Meanwhile, the leading researcher of the Latvian State Institute of Forestry "Silava", Agnis Šmits, stated that there are 27 monitoring points for the spruce eight-toothed bark beetle in Latvia: "Traps are used in two ways. One is for monitoring, which is our task, to determine what the risk is in a particular region. The other is for containment measures."

Traps should be placed in fresh fellings, next to the stands to be protected. Šmits stressed in contrast to some other tree pest problems, cutting down individual freshly infested spruces will not help in the fight against the bark beetle. First of all, hardly anyone will know how to recognize infested fir trees. Second, the smell of cut wood could even attract new bark beetles. 

Šmits said that a family of eight-toothed beetles usually consists of one insect father and three mothers that lay eggs in the infested spruce. A tree affected by bark beetles dies after about two to three months. A few bark beetles are not particularly dangerous, but if their number reaches tens of thousands, then there is no hope for the forest. Therefore, it is important to try to limit the spread of these insects in time by cutting down the infested stands and placing traps to capture the critters. 

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